History - Navy

History - Navy

Eternal Father
The "Navy Hymn"

(Information from The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion
by LindaJo H. McKim, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky. 1993)

The "Navy Hymn" is Eternal Father, Strong to Save. The original words were written as a poem in 1860 by William Whiting of Winchester, England, for a student who was about to sail for the United States. The melody, published in 1861, was composed by fellow Englishman, Rev. John Bacchus Dykes, an Episcopalian clergyman.

The hymn, found in most hymnals, is known as the "Navy hymn" because it is sung at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. It is also sung on ships of the Royal Navy (U.K.) and has been translated into French.

Eternal Father was the favorite hymn of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral in Hyde Park, New York, in April 1945. It was also played by the Navy Band in 1963 as President John F. Kennedy's body was carried up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Roosevelt had served as Secretary of the Navy and Kennedy was a PT boat commander in World War II.

William Whiting (1825-1878) was born in Kensington, England, and educated at Chapham and Winchester. Because of his musical ability, he became master of Winchester College Choristers' School. While best known for Eternal Father, Whiting also published two poetry collections: Rural Thoughts (1851) and Edgar Thorpe, or the Warfare of Life (1867). He died at Winchester.

John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876) was born in Hull, England, and by age 10 was the assistant organist at St. John's Church, Hull, where his grandfather was vicar. He studied at Wakefield and St. Catherine's College, earning a B.A. in Classics in 1847. He cofounded the Cambridge University Musical Society. He was ordained as curate of Malton in 1847. For a short time, he was canon of Durham Cathedral, then precentor (1849-1862). In 1862 he became vicar of St. Oswald's, Durham. He published sermons and articles on religion but is best known for over 300 hymn tunes he composed. He died in Sussex at age 53.